Season One, Part I: Introduction, The Call to Adventure (John, Dean, Sam), The Refusal of the Call (Sam, Dean), Supernatural Aid (Sam, Dean)
Season Two, Part I: The Special World, The Road of Trials, Sam's Meeting With the Goddess
Season Two, Part II: (Forthcoming) Dean's Meeting With the Goddess, Dean's Refusal of the Call (!Again!), Dean's Atonement With the Father, Dean's Apotheosis, Dean's Ultimate Boon, Sam's Rescue From Without
“Why do I hafta be some kind of hero?”
A Hero’s Journey Analysis of Supernatural
Season Two, Part I
Season Two: The Initiation
The first image of Sam and Dean is from behind the fire of their father’s pyre. Their faces are hazy, warped by the flame. Sam openly fidgets, tears streaming. Confused, he asks his brother if their father said anything. Dean stares blankly into the fire. “No,” he answers, after a pregnant pause. A tear betrays his inner grief despite the straight face.
The cinematographic decision to place the pyre between the camera and the
Specifically, the pyre-shot indicates the Road of Trials. “Once having traversed the threshold, the hero moves in a dream landscape of curiously fluid, ambiguous forms, where he must survive a succession of trials” (Campbell 97). Sam and Dean are depicted hazily because their selves – mentally, emotionally, spiritually – have lost their stability. Now it isn’t clear where their path leads. They lost their anchor (John), their purpose (the Yellow-Eyed Demon), and means (the Colt).The flame-wavered image of the boys symbolically depicts this ambiguous Self.
The sense of floating helplessness continues in the next scene. Like all confused heroes, Sam and Dean hole up at their
Sam approaches his big brother and tries to get Dean to open up. To deal with their father’s death. His brother snaps at him sarcastically.
So Sam becomes equally snarky and points out their inaction. All Dean has been doing is working on the Impala. “Another Test of the hero is how quickly she can adjust to the new rules of the Special World” (Vogler 139). The Winchesters can’t adjust. Dean hasn’t been out gathering intel on supernatural activities. He hasn’t been scanning obituaries. He hasn’t been cleaning his guns. He hasn’t been consulting with Bobby. He hasn’t been doing anything save repairing the Impala. But it is both boys who have been floundering in the new world. The Special World. The world without their father.
Sam: Say something! Alright? Hell, say anything!
Aren’t you angry? Don’t you want revenge? But
all you do is sit out here all day long buried under-
neath this damn car!
Sam: I don’t care how you deal with this, but you have to
deal with this, man!
Sam: And I’m not alright. Not at all. But neither are you.
(“Everyone Loves A Clown”)
Just as Dean rebuilds the Impala to rebuild his soul, Sam rededicates himself to the family business to rededicate himself to his family.
Unfortunately, the new world demands more than good intentions, and the skills the heroes successfully used in the Departure are just not going to cut it. Dean clearly states their almost utter lack of ability to find their ground again, even using their previous skills as hunters:
Dean: Revenge, huh?
Dean: Sounds good. You got any leads on where the
Demon is? Makin’ heads or tails on any of Dad’s
research? ‘Cause I sure ain’t. You know when we
do finally find it – oh, no wait. Like you said: the
Colt’s gone. But I’m sure you’ve figured out another
way to kill it. We got nothin’, Sam. Nothin’, okay?
So the only thing I can do? Is I can work on the car.
(“Everybody Loves A Clown”)
Their hunter methods of detective work will not suffice for this completely unexpected world. The shock and confusion of the Special World is too much for Dean and he falls back on the one thing he can do: repair the Impala. He realizes more than Sam that they are utterly helpless and unprepared. “No matter how many schools he has been through, he’s a freshman all over again in this new world” (Vogler 135). The elder
Borrowing Mentor Bobby’s spare van, the
Ellen Harvelle is the primary ally of the brothers
In the second episode of Season Two, “Everybody Loves a Clown,” Sam whips out his cell phone when the boys are stuck on a job. “Maybe Ellen or that guy Ash will know something,” he says as he dials. Nothing in John’s Journal seems to match the current creature they are hunting - nothing in their former training or knowledge seems to match the creature - and so the boys have to reach out to their allies for help. Just as Dean notes that they are helpless, so Sam admits that they are helpless: “So look, if you can help, we can use all the help we can get.” And in response, Ellen points them to Ash.
Ash is a scruffy “don’t-judge-a-book-by-it’s-cover” character that wears “hillbilly” on the outside and harbors an MIT education on the inside. Sam and Dean hand over John’s research on the Yellow-Eyed Demon to Ash for him to compile. For him to make sense of. Because nothing in their former training or knowledge helps their understanding of it. The heroes reach out to allies to help them in this new world, a place where their Departure skills won’t take them all the way.
Note that in Season One, the only one they could contact for help was their father. And then Bobby, much later in the season. Both their Mentors. In Season Two, they have a wider variety of new people to assist them. Most importantly, these new people have an equal relationship with them. Their interactions are not as tense with the “teacher-student” atmosphere, and the behavior is much more casual. This indicates that Season One is the Departure, and Season Two is the Initiation.
Ellen specifically warns them about Gordon Walker.
Sam: Got a question.
Ellen: Yeah, shoot.
Sam: You ever run across a guy named Gordon Walker?
Ellen: Yeah, I know Gordon.
Ellen: He’s a real good hunter. Why you askin’, sweetie?
Sam: Well, we ran into him on a job, and we’re kinda working
with him, I guess.
Ellen: Don’t do that, Sam.
Sam: I thought you said he was a good hunter?
Ellen: Yeah, and Hannibal Lector’s a good psychiatrist. Look,
he is dangerous to everyone and everything around him.
If he’s workin’ on a job, you boys just let him handle it
and move on.
Ellen tips off the boys as to the hidden nature of Gordon, a fellow hunter. The brothers learn that though hunters may be skilled, they also may be frightening. The side of the “good guys” (i.e. hunters) is not always populated by the most stable of minds and the most clean of souls. Some hunters – and especially Gordon – are enemies. This category of their life violently hits them an unexpected angle. But Ellen serves to gently wean Sam and Dean, who as essentially newborn infants into this society need help seeing things clearly with their blurry newborn vision. So they know not to touch hot stoves and to steady them when they stumble out of the threshold’s belly.
Dean falls out of the gate first into a pitiless plunge into the spiritual labyrinth of the Initiation. Closer to his father than Sam, he feels John’s death like an ice-cream scooper gouged a piece out of his soul. (This spiritual “hole” is discussed later.) The price of the Journey is the non-comfort of the hero. Growth is both outward and inward in the Initiation.
And so it happens that if anyone – in whatever society
- undertakes for himself the perilous journey into the
darkness by descending, either intentionally or unintentionally,
into the crooked lanes of his own spiritual labyrinth, he
soon finds himself in a landscape of symbolical figures.
Like Sam struggling with his destiny, Dean will wrestle with not only the monsters of the dark, but his own inner darkness. Both brothers have to come to grips with their own souls, and to do that requires a painful Journey within. They must scrutinize who and what they are as a human and as hero to Journey forth. They partially don’t want to visit the unseeable depths because they were comfortable in the world of the Departure. Dean had his father and his brother, together as a family for a brief blip of a few episodes, and every decision was simple: if it’s evil, then it must die. Sam finally rediscovered his family and found the creature responsible for Jessica’s death, and his simple mission of revenge was only about her. In Season Two, the brothers are ripped out of this comfort and forced to face their inner demons (pun truly intended).
They face a whole new world, where the stage and players are far more vast than they could have imagined. But however large the mythos grows, it is the internal turmoil of navigating the frightening passages of their own spiritual labyrinth that the brothers
The first stage in the Initation, the Road of Trials, is fraught with just that: trials and ordeals. These are the episodes where Sam and Dean hunt a creature, and through that hunt, grow out of their prior places in the world. In Season One, by the single fact they sought their father marks both Sam and Dean as the archetypical “Son.” Now that their father is not among the living, they must redefine themselves.
So what is easiest to those wallowing in the groundless space of finding themselves?
The job they’ve always done.
It is through the routine of the job that the
Sam performs as Dean’s conscience in his battle reconceiving the world. Basically, he stays his brother’s hand by injecting grey into Dean’s black-and-white ethics.
Yet Dean has already been wavering from his polarized, comfortable morals. In “Devil’s Trap,” Meg’s exorcism raised a problem he never considered possible: that the family motto of “saving people, hunting things” is a paradox. Since childhood, hunting things always led to saving people. The exorcism saved Meg from a life of self-imprisonment. Unfortunately, that free life was all of five minutes – her body was too broken. In truth, it was a mercy killing.
In “Faith,” the boys’ hunt was halt a preacher’s wife from using a Reaper to murder people she deemed wicked. She traded these innocents’ life force to save those with terminal illnesses. By their hunt they stop her from playing God. However, in the process, they deprive the fated of their salvation.
These two actions left Dean in a new ground. The
In the episode “Bloodlust,” the
Sam: Dean, you really don’t remember anything?
Dean: No. ‘Cept for this pit in my stomach. Sam, something’s
(“In My Time of Dying”)
Dean: I feel like I have this…
Gordon: Hole inside you? And it keeps on getting bigger
and bigger and darker and darker? Good. You can
use it. Keeps you hungry. Trust me, there’s plenty
out there that needs killing, and this will help you
Sam: You know, you slap on this big fake smile, but I know
how you feel, Dean. Dad’s dead. And he left a hole and
it hurts so bad you can’t take it.
Dean tries to fill his emotional hole with violence – clean, decisive violence. It is action. It is satisfying. “When I killed that vampire at the mill, I didn’t even think about it. Hell, I even enjoyed it” (“Bloodlust”). It seems to root the cloudy, ambiguous world of the Initiation in The Usual.
Until Sam confronts him with the ambiguity and forces him to stop. To think. To observe the facts instead of proceeding with childhood teachings. It is time for Dean to grow into a fully autonomous individual, instead of using daddy’s black-and-white lenses.
Dean and Sam were raised to see the supernatural as black and white.
Dean: What if we’ve killed things that didn’t deserve
killing? You know, I mean the way Dad raised us…
to hate those things. And, man, I hate ‘em. I do.
Sam never accepted it. Dean took it to heart – it was instinctual. It is a “process of dissolving, transcending, or transmuting the infantile images of our personal past” (
Why, though, should the
The heroes never “feel better,” anyways.
The whole reason the boys are pulled through the ethical ringer is because there is a very difficult decision to prepare for. Every hunt they proceed through quavers Sam and Dean’s ethical stance because of the hunt’s essential grey nature.
And every thing they hunt Dean sees reflected a looming situation.
It is first apparent in “Bloodlust,” when Gordon tries to convince Dean that the good vampire Lenore is deceiving him. Gordon finally finishes the story of how he came to be a hunter.
Dean: The vampire that killed your sister deserved to
die, but this –
Gordon: [laughs] Killed my sister. That filthy fang didn’t
kill my sister. It turned her. It made her one of
them. So I hunted her down and killed her myself.
Dean: You did what?
Gordon: It wasn’t my sister anymore. It wasn’t human.
I didn’t blink. And neither would you.
Sam continues the conversation with Gordon while Dean stares at his brother in mild shock. He stares not at Gordon. At his brother.
Because he is now gauging whether he could kill his little brother. Without blinking.
Dean is lost for a good twenty seconds, face completely raw with his fear. He already knows he couldn’t. He couldn’t unhesitatingly pull the trigger on his younger brother. It is the exact image of him executing “turned” Sam that has mouthy Dean speechless.
And it would have been a hollow speculation if not for John’s final Order to Dean.
It is the whispered secret of the season opener, “In My Time of Dying.” John smiled bitterly while Dean appeared shell-shocked. And then Dean didn’t tell Sam. No one heard it save for Dean; even the audience knew not what John’s last words were.
But this is the first moment that hints as to what that secret is.
The ethically ambiguous hunts are necessary because they closely resemble the emotional and mental situation Dean is in. He must proceed through them in order to discover how he eventually will deal with Sam. And Sam must proceed through them in order to discover how he will eventually deal with himself.
Because some day Dean will have the gun to his brother’s head.
John’s final order: save Sam, or you will have to kill him. At this point Dean cannot think of anything more than the Order, and how it’s “screaming in my head all day” (“Hunted”). He is in shock. But by having to make grey decisions in formerly black-and-white situations, Dean learns of his capacity to carry out the Order. If Sam turns evil, will Dean kill him (because Dean believes everything evil should be killed)? And is it “courage” to kill an evil Sam, or will Dean feel like he’s failed his little brother? What constitutes “evil,” and is Sam still Sam?
Once Dean revealed the Order to Sam in the beginning of “Hunted,” Sam must also discover his own nature. He struggles with the philosophical giants of free will versus determinism: Is his evil turn inevitable? Could he stave off and perhaps counter-weight it with good deeds, like he says he’s trying to do in “Playthings”? Is the individualistic, self-governed hero in reality destined?
The hero, whether god or goddess, man or woman,
the figure in a myth or the dreamer of a dream, discovers
and assimilates his opposite (his own unsuspected self)
either by swallowing it or by being swallowed. One by one
the resistances are broken. He must put aside his pride,
his virtue, beauty, and life, and bow or submit to the
absolutely intolerable. Then he finds that he and his
opposite are not of differing species, but one flesh.
Sam fears he will turn evil. He struggles against the faceless inner demons. But to pass through the Initiation he needs to realize that whatever he is, he is. He must reconcile with himself, no matter who or what he may truly be.
These are the questions Sam sees reflected in their hunts (“Simon Says,” “Hunted”), just as Dean sees the “shades of grey” questions reflected. This is one of the essential inner journeys of the Road of Trials. “In our dreams the ageless perils, gargoyles, trials, secret helpers and intrusive figures are nightly still encountered; and in their forms we may see reflected not only the whole picture of our present case, but also the due to what we must do to be saved” (Campbell 101; emphasis mine). Sam and Dean are not tortured ethically and emotionally just to see some angst and drama on the screen. They are both searching for a way to be saved. Both boys are fighting to save Sam from turning evil, and both boys are fighting to save Dean from his own knee-jerk, virulent judgment. The Winchesters are fighting to save their souls.
Dean: Sam, when Dad told me that I might have to kill
you, it was only if I couldn’t save you. Now if it’s
the last thing I do, I’m gonna save you.
(“Born Under A Bad Sign”)
All these “initiatory quests and moments of illumination” (
This is better known as the bittersweet stage of Meeting With the Goddess.
Sam and Dean encounter the Goddess separately: Sam in the episode “Heart” and Dean in “What Is and What Should Never Be.” The fact that they go through this stage separately indicates they are the hero in themselves. This is not to suggest that Dean didn’t grow from the emotional milestone that was
“Heart” is more than the Order and its consequences for Sam. The episode’s “saved person” is San Franciscan and Pretty Girl Madison. Its “hunted thing” is a werewolf shadowing her. After a pitifully uncreative game of “Rock-Paper-Scissors” on Dean’s part, Sam stays with
While Dean is a rake, Sam is shy and awkward. At first he can’t even speak to
The emotional connection drives Sam and Madison’s fervent attraction.
Madison – the Goddess – makes him feel alive. To emphasize the point, Sam and Madison have sex. Sex: here being the pleasant visual symbol of humanness, of carnal impulse. It is fleshy and sweaty, blush with blood. It is more alive than anything else to do with human existence. The body has been traditionally seen as “worldly” and the mind as “otherworldly,” the body as the living prison of the immortal soul. The life-affirming (and perpetuating) ritual of sex marks “Heart” as the stage of the Meeting With the Goddess.
Or maybe it was just time for Sam to get some.
Life is the Goddess’ essence. “She encompasses the encompassing, nourishes the nourishing, and is the life of everything that lives” (
The Goddess encompasses everything about life. Including mortality. “She is also the death of everything that dies. The whole round of existence is accomplished within her sway…She is the womb and the tomb” (
Despite the efforts of Dean, there is no cure for
And it is terrible, indeed. There is nothing restrained in Sam’s horror when
Sam: We can find a way, alright? I can. I’m gonna save you.
Help me, Sam. I want you to do it. I want it to be you –
Sam: I can’t.
This is the way you can save me. Please. I’m asking
you to save me.
Not only is this against the very ethics of Samness (not killing innocents), it also is (1) too much of a reminder of the now-ambiguous “saving people, hunting things” motto, and (2) a horrific preview of how Dean will eventually have to kill Sam to “save him.”
It is too much for Sam. This is the potential danger of how great the Goddess is: she is blinding in both her beauty and her revulsion. “…the form of the goddess undergoes for him a series of transfigurations: she can never be greater than himself, though she can always promise more than he is yet capable of comprehending. She lures, she guides, she bids him burst his fetters” (
Why does Sam need to be tortured so? Because the Meeting With the Goddess is where the hero must grow up from a childhood viewpoint.
Through this exercise his spirit is purged of its infantile,
inappropriate sentimentalities and resentments, and his
mind opened to the inscrutable presence which exists,
not primarily as “good” and “bad” with respect to his
childlike human convenience, his weal and woe, but as
the law and image of the nature of being. (